THESE TREES IN THE SMOKEY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, TENNESSEE, ARE IN ONE OF THE AREAS EXPERIENCING SOME OF THE FASTEST WESTWARD MOVEMENT OF SPECIES IN THE US. SEAN PAVONE/SHUTTERSTUCK
Climate change is shifting the forests of America in an unexpected direction. All over the world, global warming is causing ecosystems to move away from the equator or to higher altitudes, in search of favorable climatic conditions. However, in the eastern United States, even more tree species have shifted westward than north.
Dr Songlin Fei of Purdue University examined an extensive database on the locations of 86 species over the past 30 years. Of these, 62 percent were found to be moving north, averaging around 20 kilometers (12 miles) a decade. This entirely expected shift was overshadowed by a more surprising one. In the same sample, 73 percent were moving west, at slightly faster rates, with most change happening at the leading edge.
There were patterns to the movements. “Most angiosperms [flowering plants, such as oaks] shifted westward and most gymnosperms [non-flowering seed producers such as conifers] shifted poleward,” Fei and co-authors write in Science Advances. As expected, the changes were more noticeable for saplings than established trees.